Photoshop Basics: Layer Masking Part 1

Understanding layer masking is integral to achieving the look you want for your images.  Fortunately it’s extremely simple as long as you remember the layer masking ‘golden rule’…

White reveals, black conceals

See, I told you it was easy!  Okay, I guess I need to give a little further explanation.  :) 

When you create a new adjustment layer in Photoshop, by default a layer mask is also created.  It is the white box.

For demonstration purposes, I created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and increased the saturation to +54.  Here is what my image looks like before and after adding the adjustment layer…

Yikes!  I like the saturation of some of the brick and on the red of the window pane, but the purple dress and green foliage turned nuclear!  How do we keep the effect on some parts of the image but not on others, you ask??  Why, by using our layer mask, of course!  Here are the steps…

1.  Click on the layer mask over in the Layers palette (the white box – make sure it is selected)

2.  Select your brush tool from the toolbox (the keyboard shortcut is ‘b’)

3.  Make sure the foreground color is set to black (you can use the ‘x’ key to toggle the foreground and background colors if needed)

4.  Begin painting on your layer mask with black to conceal the effect on parts of the image.  Also, you can change the opacity of your brush as you go.  In some areas I may want to cover the effect 20%, others 50%, and maybe others 100%, so I will change the opacity of my black brush as needed.  Here is what my mask looks like after I’m done masking over the purple dress and green foliage at varying opacities…

And here is a close-up of the mask…

This is what our image looks like before masking the Hue/Saturation layer and after masking…

You can see that her dress and the green foliage aren’t nuclear anymore, but we still have the saturated colors elsewhere in the image.  Here is what the mask looks like overlayed on the image (where I masked is in red)…

(Sidenote… to view the overlay of your mask on top of your image, simply hit the backslash ‘\’ key on your keyboard.  To turn off this view, hit the backslash again)

One other tip on using masks… if you conceal  too much of the effect on an area by painting with black on the layer mask, you can just switch your foreground color to white (shortcut key is ‘x’) and paint on the mask with white to reveal more of the effect.

Here is the final before and after…

Masking allows you to apply effects to only certain areas of your photo and allows you to achieve just the look you are going for.

See, that wasn’t so hard!!  I hope this was helpful.  As always, feedback is much appreciated!

Click here to read Layer Masking Part 2

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18 Responses to Photoshop Basics: Layer Masking Part 1

  1. Pingback: Creamy Light – Adding Creamy Brightness in Photoshop {Plus a FREE Action!} | Polished Picture

  2. Jana says:

    Thank you for your great tips and tutorials- and for starting with the basics!

  3. Angie says:

    You are welcome, Jana!! :)

  4. Shamim says:

    wow.. Fantastic steps.. I really like it. keep up :-)

  5. Allie says:

    Thanks for this!!! Fantastic tips! I especially like the white reveals black conceals!!
    Cheers
    Allie

  6. Brian says:

    Is there an option to make it so that when I add an Adjustment layer it automatically comes with a layer mask so i can mask out bits of the photo I don’t want to get affected.

    At the moment my I have to click add layer mask before it adds it to the adjustment layer.

    Any help would be great thank you :)

    Brian

  7. Angie says:

    Hi Brian! In full-blown Photoshop, the layer mask should automatically be created when you create a new adjustment layer. Are you using Elements?? If not, I’m not sure why that would be happening in Photoshop! Let me know!

  8. Brian says:

    I’m using Photoshop. I asked a friend and he figured it out. Turns out in the i had the option turned off. (Don’t know how I managed that, its pretty well hidden).

    In the Adjustments Layer Panel, there’s a fly-out menu icon on the top right. Click that and make sure “Add mask by default” is ticked. Wala!

    Thanks for the masking tut!

    • Angie says:

      Wow, I didn’t know that was an option in Photoshop! Thanks for the info, and thanks for letting me know how to fix it. Glad you figured it out!

  9. Dean says:

    This is, by far, hands down, the best site ever! Wish I would of found this site 6 months ago.

  10. Robin says:

    I am new to Photoshop and am so happy to have found your tutorials! They are so easy to follow, unlike many of the more complicated ones I’ve been seeing online. I have a quick question for you. I’m using Photoshop 7 and for whatever reason I don’ have a regular paintbrush, only a hisory brush. I was wondering if you have any idea why I can’t find the regular paintbrush? I really want to try what you’ve shown here with the layers but have NO IDEA how without the paintbrush? Thanks again for taking the time to help out the newbies :).

    • Angie says:

      Hi Robin! Thanks for visiting! I’m not sure about Photoshop 7, but in the more current versions of PS, there is more than one tool under many of the items in the toolbox. For instance, if I hit my ‘B’ key to bring up the ‘Brush’ tool, it may bring up the Pencil or another tool in that category. I would suggest trying the ‘B’ key, seeing which tool it selects from the toolbox, and if it’s not the Brush, then right-clicking on the tool it has selected. The Brush tool may be ‘hidden’ under there. :) Hope that helps!

  11. I am always searching for quality posts & articles & this is what I found here, I hope you will be adding more

  12. Terri says:

    The backslash key in photoshop cs5 does not show the layer mask. It switches back and forth between the black and white color swatches.

  13. Yes,a educational tutorial.Im happy to got the tutorial.Good luck you go ahead.

  14. Hi ANGIE,
    Good experience about photoshop layer mask, this article help to become a expert graphic designer, thanks sharing this informative and helpful article with us. Go ahead and share more experience with us via this blog.

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